By Rahul Bhutani(Twitter – @BhutaniRahul) – 14th August, 2018
The Tennis event at Asian Games 2018 is scheduled to start from 19th of August and will go on till the 25th. The men and women team events have been dropped, and as a result, the sport will see the five regular events – men and women singles along with men, women and mixed doubles. India has always done well at the continental event and have named the best possible squad with the exception of Yuki Bhambri and Sania Mirza. While Bhambri has opted to play on the professional circuit, Mirza is expecting a baby and hence has been away from the circuit.
There is an added incentive for the quartet of Ramkumar Ramanathan, Prajnesh Gunneswaran, Ankita Raina and Karman Kaur Thandi, with the ITF announcing that the winners of the men and women singles will gain direct entries into the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Somdev’s exploits from the 2010 edition come to mind when one talks about India’s performances in tennis in the last two editions. Somdev defeated Denis Istomin to win the gold in singles and then teamed up with Sanam Singh to win the doubles gold. Sania Mirza, in company of Saketh Myneni, won India’s only Tennis gold in Incheon four years ago, with Yuki bagging bronze in both men’s singles and doubles.
Sanam Singh(L) and Somdev Devvarman(R) with their Asian Games
Mens Doubles Gold in 2010(China)
The men’ s field in singles is an ATP challenger level field with Denis Istomin from Uzbekistan the only top 100 ranked player. Kei Nishikori and Hyeon Chung have both stayed away from the Games to focus on the US Open series. For India, the onus will be on Ramkumar and Prajnesh, both of whom have secured career high rankings this season. Ram reached his first ATP World tour final at Newport a month back and rose to a career high of 111. Since then, his form has been patchy, with first round losses in Los Angles, Washington and then at a Challenger event in China. If Ram can maintain his composure, India can expect a medal from the Tamil Nadu lad. Prajnesh on the other hand has seen a significant upsurge in his fortunes since he scripted India’s comeback win over China in the Davis Cup by winning the final rubber. Since then he has won an ATP Challenger title in China and reached the final qualifying round of Roland Garros. In his last two tournaments, he qualified into the main draw of an ATP event in Mexico and made the quarterfinals of an ATP Challenger in USA. Ram and Prajnesh are likely to be seeded second and fourth respectively and in addition to Istomin, the duo will face challenge from Jason Jung of Taipei who is likely to be seeded third, Ze Zhang of China and the Kazakhstan duo of Alexander Bublik and Aleksandr Nedovyesov. The duo will fancy their chances of winning the gold and booking the ticket to Tokyo.
Saketh Myneni and Sania Mirza had won the Mixed Doubles Gold in the 2014
edition in Korea
In men’s doubles, Rohan Bopanna and Divij Sharan will be the top seeded team. At 32 and 38, Rohan and Divij are the second and third best ranked doubles players in Asia with only Ben Mclachlan of Japan ranked above them but he is not entered for the games. Bopanna hasn’t played any match since retiring from the second round match at Wimbledon and if he can be match fit Bopanna-Sharan will be favourites for the gold. Rohan hasn’t won an Asian Games medal so far and will be eager to set the record straight at Palembang. Leander is likely to be paired with Ram instead of Sumit Nagal as was proposed initially. Ram’s big serve and Leander’s craft at the net make up for an ideal combination but Leander too hasn’t played a lot this season and took a three month gap post the Davis Cup win over China. The legendary Leander Paes won gold in the 1994, 2002 and 2006 editions, and at 45, this is likely to be the final Asian Games for him and he will be keen to sign off on a high. Both our pairs will face challenge from the Chinese pairs who are well drilled as was evident in the Davis Cup match when the pair of Rohan and Leander were stretched to the limits. Men’s doubles is India’ s easiest opportunity to win a gold in the tennis event with both pairs capable of winning the gold
On the women’ singles side there has been a lot of development over last four years, and the fact that all six players in the team are below 25 years is a testament to this fact. Ankita Raina and Karman Kaur Thandi will be leading the Indian hopes in the singles event. The women singles field in comparison to the men’s is definitely more competitive with China naming World No. 32 Shuai Zhang and World No. 53 Qiang Wang in the team. World No. 93 Luksika Kumkhum of Thailand, World No. 124 Sabina Sharipova of Uzbekistan & World No. 169 Miyu Kato of Japan will also feature in the main draw. At 187 and 197 Ankita and Karman are likely to be seeded between 5 to 8. Ankita has had a breakthrough year so far – one in which she made her first grandslam qualifying draw at the Roland Garros. Ankita then followed this up with an appearance in Wimbledon qualifiers. Ankita, who reached a career high of 181, will be looking to bury the disappointment of 2017 Asian Indoor Games where despite being the top seed she lost to a lower ranked player from Indonesia. 20 year old Karman broke into top 200 last month and comes into the Asian Games at a career high of 197. Armed with a big serve that can prove handful for most opponents, the Delhi girl won her first ITF title in Hong Kong this year and has beaten several higher ranked players this year.
Ankita and Karman will be our flagbearers in
Women’s doubles will no doubt miss Sania Mirza who has played the last four editions from 2002 to 2014 and it remains to be see if we can win a medal in her absence. The doubles events begin on 20th and the pairs can be changed until 19th and it will be interesting to see what pairings are made by Ankita Bhambri and the team management. Rutuja Bhosale and Pranjala Yadlapalli won two titles in Thailand in last two weeks playing together and it looks likely that the duo will play together in the Asian Games. Rutuja and Pranjala are also India’s best ranked singles players behind Ankita and Karman. This mean country’s No.1 doubles player Prarthana Thombare after Mirza could be paired with either Ankita Raina or Kamran Kaur Thandi depending on the mixed doubles pairings. Prarthana at 149 and Ankita at 166 are the next best ranked doubles players in the country after Mirza. With World No.12 Yifan Xu and World No. 20 Zhaoxuan Yang in their team China start as huge favourites in women doubles. In mixed doubles Leander was initially named to play with Ankita and Rohan with Prarthana but this could change until 19th. Divij comes into the games as the most in-form doubles player and it will be no surprise if he is also seen playing mixed doubles
Tennis is primarily a individual sports but events like Asian Games and Olympics provide players an opportunity to play as a unit for the country and fans across the country will hope that the period of August 19 to August 25 will be a fruitful one for the Indian Tennis.